Sodaless in the City

Last week, New York City approved a ban on large sugary drinks being sold at certain vendors around the city that will start in March of 2013.

NYC businesses that get inspected and graded by the health department will no longer be able to sell sugary drinks over 16oz. If the restaurant has a self serving beverage dispenser then they can’t even give out cups over 16 oz in their establishment (refills are allowed though). There will still be locations within NYC that aren’t effected by this 16oz rule though. Convenience stores, newsstands and vending machines can sell any drink, whatever size. Time has a great breakdown on what is allowed and what is not.

Continue reading Sodaless in the City

Bittner vs Hughes – Nerdtastic Restaurant Bill Splitting

Splitting restaurant bills is an awkward business. In the US and many other countries, most restaurants are unwilling to create a separate check for each guest.  As a result, many a lovely night of dining out ends with an awkward fairness problem.

One appealing solution is to just “split the bill,” because the math is easy and everyone contributes. Here the awkwardness is for people living on a tight budget. No one wants to start a fight about a spare change, but a dinner out often crosses the line into real money. If you’re being spendthrift and go out with less thrifty friends, splitting a check can torpedo your spending cash for the week. It’s hardly fair for someone who is broke and orders an appetizer to split with someone who had a few drinks and a main course.

Continue reading Bittner vs Hughes – Nerdtastic Restaurant Bill Splitting

Chick-fil-a – The Pros and Cons of Business Fairness

People are pretty worked up about Chick-fil-a’s president Dan Cathy’s stance on marriage. He was recently asked about his support of traditional marriage being between a man and a woman in an interview for the Baptist Press. He was quoted:

“Well, guilty as charged,” said Cathy when asked about the company’s position.

“We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.

This of course turned into a political crapstorm. Both sides of the fence jumped on these comments and reacted strongly. Many people screamed boycott, the Henson Company pulled their Muppet toys from Chick-fil-a children’s meals. The mayor of Boston went so far as to write a letter to the company informing them they aren’t welcome in his city. Other cities like Chicago and San Francisco followed in line, telling them to take their business elsewhere.

Continue reading Chick-fil-a – The Pros and Cons of Business Fairness

Marketplace Fairness Act – Who Really Wins?

There is a bill going through the Senate right now called the Marketplace Fairness Act. It’s a bill that will force online companies like eBay and Amazon to collect taxes on all purchases, regardless which state they are shipping to. Currently Amazon only collects taxes from 5 states in the country.

I can hear you asking – “A new tax?! Don’t we already have enough taxes to pay? Why are both sides of the political fence backing this bill.. has the sky really fallen?!” Turns out, legally you’re supposed to be paying those taxes for your online purchases at the end of the year when you file your tax return. Surprisingly enough, Americans aren’t always so voluntary and forthcoming with that sort of information when tax time comes around. State and Federal Tax bureaus also haven’t been the best when it comes to enforcing it either.

Continue reading Marketplace Fairness Act – Who Really Wins?

When Fairness Backfires

The J.C. Penney logo
J.C. Penney has struggled after introducing new “fairer” prices this spring.

In most money matters, it pays to be fair. (Certainly when paying back your friends.) But when big businesses try to be fair to their customers, sometimes it can backfire in a big way.

Take J.C. Penney. Back in February, they hired a new CEO, Ron Johnson (who built Apple Inc.’s retail operation) to revamp their declining sales. The department store chain then made some radical changes to their pricing.  They eliminated coupons, got rid of confusing fine print, and cut back from over 500 sales a year to just 12. The goal was to make shopping simpler, more transparent, and fairer for consumers.

Five months later, sales are tanking and stock prices have fallen more than 30%. But why? And is it possible for a company to be honest and still turn a profit? Continue reading When Fairness Backfires

An Interview With JumpOffCampus

JumpOffCampusRecently, Katie from JumpOffCampus conducted an experiment: what happens if you tape record me talking for 15 minutes, and post it almost word-for-word on the internet?

Find out the results by reading the interview on the JumpOffCampus blog (except for the parts that were “too colorful for the internet”, kindly censored out).

JumpOffCampus is, in my honest opinion, the world’s best off-campus housing tool. It’s only available with schools that partner with them, so if you are a student and looking for a good apartment search tool, you should reach out to them.

A widget-ized version of the rent calculator is currently available as a resource on their page, which we hope will be very valuable for their students. Woot!

The Joys Of Living With Your Tenants

I feel odd linking to a NASDAQ page about shared real estate, but there was a nice article on one of the NASDAQ blogs recently about renting out rooms of a house or apartment that you own – that is, being a landlord in your own home. Apparently, the 2011 US Census has concluded that over 30% of households in the US now have unrelated adults living together, which comes to 69M roommates (and a 10.7% increase over the 2007 figure). This means the potential market for property owners to share their residence with renters is increasing rather quickly.

Renting part of a place you own is an appealing option for people who are living in a house that is now too big for them to afford. For instance, parents who have an empty-nest can rent out their kids old bedroom to get some retirement income. Or a young professional who wants to go back to graduate school can get some positive cash flow if they own some property.

If you’re able to get a mortgage, renting out the other rooms of a residence can also be a good way to live affordably while slowly buying the place you’re sharing. With interest rates low, and the sale-price-to rental-price-ratio declining in many major US cities, it’s getting easier and easier to pull-off paying off a mortgage with rental income.

The main trick to doing this well yourself is to find and keep good tenants / roommates, which can be a tough proposition. Finding roommates means ensuring your personal security and doing appropriate tenant screening. There are also a couple of things to watch out for: have some legal protection, pay taxes, and follow Fair Housing rules when advertising for tenants. (the NASDAQ article does not mention this, but the exact rules of fair housing legislation seem more subtle now in light of a recent court case).